When the phone rang, the unfamiliar number on the screen had too many digits so I didn’t answer. It rang again with the same number. Surely it was spam. A few minutes later a text came from my niece telling me to, “Answer your phone!” On the third call, a voice said, “Auntie Jo, it’s me, JoJo! I’m calling on a satellite phone from the middle of the Atlantic.”
JoJo is my nephew, Joseph Nunes, who lives in Antigua in the West Indies. His boyhood dream to row across the Atlantic ocean was in progress. At age 18, he was doing it with Travis Weste in the pairs category of the international Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. The 3,000-mile race—considered the most difficult and grueling ocean-rowing event in the world—is marked by good crossings but also rollovers, off-season hurricanes, and harrowing rescues. Contestants (solo, pairs, or four-person crews) row westward from La Gomera off the coast of Spain to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua in identical 24 foot by 5 ½ foot fiberglass rowboats.
I tracked the progress of the 21 boats, which was updated every four hours on the Talisker website. The single rescue boat, which on radar looked like it hovered nearby, was actually hundreds of nautical miles and days away from some boats. If help was needed, it would take some time for it to arrive. It was now in the hands of each rower to stay afloat and do what they had trained to do. When the boats left the safe harbor of the Canary Islands, their dreams collided with the reality of what rowing across an immense ocean meant. They were now at the mercy of the sea, the winds, the currents, and their own fears. The real challenge of strength, of courage, of fortitude, of conviction, and of endurance had begun.
In that moment, the Talisker Challenge became a metaphor for what had been thrust upon all of us in 2020. The world left the safe harbor of normalcy to embark on a vast sea of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, separation and loss. JoJo and Travis trained for two years for this journey. They had satellite phones to call for help. Solar panels to keep the electronics charged. A life-saving sea water to freshwater conversion unit. A GPS and beacons in case of emergency. Freeze-dried rations to last 90 days at sea. By comparison, none of us had any training on what to do during a worldwide pandemic. When the order came to quarantine the population was stranded like a pod of beached whales. Arguments devolved into gunfights over the wearing of masks. Food became scarce as the supply chain was derailed. Scientific experts who could navigate the conditions were silenced when social media and political “experts” took over the narrative.
In rough seas, JoJo and Travis had to release the para-anchor. It’s a large parachute that acts as an enormous brake to stabilize the boat and prevent it from turning broadside into the wind. In the dark seas of 2020, where was our anchor? Constant emotional currents swamped our boats.
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What's Your Anchor?
My nephew JoJo’s boat race across the Atlantic Ocean became a metaphor for what had been thrust upon all of us in 2020 with the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.
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